Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Lavender Cookies

These lavender cookies are a design that I make over and over again because they come together quickly and although the design is simple, it's a standout.

To make them, you need just three colors of royal icing and absolutely no artistic ability. If you can pipe a line and a dot, you can make these. You also don't need a special cookie cutter...round, square, rectangle, any shape will do.  I used a plaque shaped cutter for these.

These lavender cookies are for my sweet friends at The Wednesday Community Meal. I miss them so much.

Basecoat some cookies with white royal icing and let them dry completely before moving onto the next step. 

With piping consistency green royal icing, pipe some stems and add a few "v's" to them. 

Using lavender piping consistency icing, pipe groups of dots above each of the "v's."

For a final touch,  pipe a few green lines at the base of the stems. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Please Stay With Me

I apologize for my extended blogging and baking break, but I do have a good excuse.

You see, I am moving to West Cornwall, Connecticut in mid-June to run a retreat center alongside my husband for Trinity Church Wall Street. The last few weeks have been some of the busiest of my life, preparing for our move across the country and putting our house on the market.

With potential buyers coming in, we need to keep the house clean and tidy. Cookie decorating is so much fun but it is unfortunately sort of messy.  I can't have sheet pans filled with cookies setting out all over the counters.

I promise though there will be baking in my future and I am looking forward to sharing my new adventures with you. Just know that I haven't forgotten you and I sincerely hope that you stay with me.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My Friends Forever

Trinity Episcopal Cathedral's Wednesday Community Meal is very special. It's a place full of love and compassion, where friends work side by side to prepare and serve a meal to friends in need.

Everyone is invited inside to sit, relax and eat.  The meal is free, no questions asked and everyone is treated with kindness and respect.

It's been an important part of my life since 2004. In the beginning it was just my friend Fred and I handing out sack lunches. Later, with Trinity's support, it evolved to be a hot lunch in a take out box and finally in 2008, a four course meal served inside beautiful Kempton Hall.

Inviting our guests inside changed everything. It was the right thing to do. It enabled us to spend more time with our guests and we got to know and love them. They are real people. They are fathers, mothers, daughters and sons and they shouldn't have to suffer.  They deserve to eat and enjoy delicious and nutritious food and they deserve respite from the heat in the summer and the cold in the winter. 

Today was my last day at the meal and I am going to miss everyone so much. Volunteering has enriched my life in so many ways. I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to be a part of such a special program. Being with my friends each Wednesday is something I looked forward to and something I will miss terribly.

I am moving to Connecticut in June with my family but I will never forget my family at The Wednesday Community Meal.

Here are my teammates who served 287 meals today:











Craig (He's always making us laugh.)

Frank, Barbara, Helen and Diane

Bill and Kevin





John and Leah

Dan and Dean






Vicky and Joyce
Mary (She has been such a wonderful support to me. Mary is the very first volunteer to arrive and gets us started each week, moving our ingredients from our downstairs pantry into the kitchen.)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Big Batch Macarons

Macaron shells resting before baking.
I took a big risk, but it worked! I made 400 macarons for an event in record time because of a few recipe and baking changes.

I made Oregon Raspberry Macarons, Lime Coconut Macarons, Mocha Macarons and they were all enjoyed at yesterday's reception, celebrating Nathan LeRud as the new Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral.

As you know, macarons are delicious but finicky, so I was hesitant to implement my spur of the moment ideas, especially without testing them first. But the thought of cutting hours out of my work time was just way too attractive.

So here are the changes I made:

1. I increased my recipe by half to make more macarons.

With the new recipe, I can get a few more than 100 instead of 70 small macarons out of a single batch. I was tempted to double the recipe, but knew that if I made too much batter, it would be difficult to get the macaronage (the process of incorporating the dry ingredients into the egg whites) right.

Big Batch Macaron Recipe Quanities
225 grams egg whites, aged 2 to 4 days in the fridge and then brought to room temperature
270g ground almonds, sifted
405g powdered sugar, sifted
140g granulated sugar

Proceed as usual but lay out six sheetpans lined with parchment paper and set aside three pastry bags for the piping of the macarons.

Many Mocha Macarons!

2. I baked two pans of macarons at a time. 

The baking is what really eats up time. Usually I bake one pan at a time, in the middle rack of a convection oven. Each pan takes an average of 11 minutes, so you are looking at a full hour to bake a batch. The reason for baking one pan at a time is to ensure that the shells get even heat in the oven and end up with a nice rise and feet.  My solution was to put two pans in the 325 degree oven and then rotate them midway through the baking. Phew! It worked just fine.
The shells after baking.

For the Oregon Raspberry Macarons, I added a swipe of red to the tops of all the shells. I mixed red gel coloring with a bit of vodka to make a paint.

3. I asked my daughter to help me.

Another time consuming, but not hard job, is sorting the macarons into pairs. I asked my daughter Eleanor to take over the sorting while I prepared the buttercream fillings. Besides speeding up the process, it was nice to have company in the kitchen.

Eleanor sorting Lime Coconut Macarons into pairs.

Filling the macarons.

Filled and ready to eat Oregon Raspberry Macarons.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Dishwasher Appreciation

Our super dishwashing team in a photo taken a few weeks ago, in happier times. Clockwise from the back left is Steve, Jay, Bill, Kevin and Dave.

No one works harder at The Wednesday Community Meal than our team of volunteer dishwashers. Every Wednesday, they are among the first to arrive and the very last to leave.

Early in the morning, at 7:30 a.m., the pots and pans from the meal preparations start heading their way. And then, once the meal is served at 11 a.m., things get even busier because it's bus tub after bus tub of dirty dishes and silverware in addition to more pots and pans.

They are invaluable and I am grateful for their hard work and dedication.

Especially after today, I owe Bill, Jay, Dave, Steve, Kevin and Joe a debt of gratitude.

You see, we served ribs, lots of delicious ribs, ten pans full. We baked the ribs in a tomatoeye sauce and after such a long time in the oven, the pans were a real mess. The ribs were delicious, but the pans were atrocious and took lots of extra time and effort to clean.

I really wouldn't have blamed the dishwashers if they walked off the job and right out the door.  Thankfully, they didn't. They were really nice and I owe them big time and no sticky food next week.

We served 354 meals today.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Whale Cookies

I created these whale cookies for a dear friend's baby shower.

When I first started planning and sketching out the design, I went a little too crazy with the details — adding a pectoral fin, blowhole and eyelashes. I wasn't pleased and decided to pull back and simplify, which I find in most cases, is always best.

The cleaner design made the whales look sweeter, cuter and just what I wanted for a baby shower.

Taking the time to sketch your designs first really pays off. It's much better to test your designs on paper instead of on a cookie!

Here's how I made them:
Bake some whale cookies.
Use an edible ink marker to trace an outline for the belly of the whale. To keep it consistent on all of the cookies,  you may want to make a paper template that you can trace.

Mix up some flood consistency blue icing, white icing and a small amount of black icing. This is wet-on-wet decorating so you need to have all your icings mixed before you start.
Outline and fill in the belly of the whale using a pastry bag fitted with a #2 tip.
With a #2 tip, outline the rest of the whale in blue.

Fill it in with the blue icing and use a scribe tool or skewer to help evenly distribute it.

Drop on a dot of black for the eye.

Add a drop of white icing inside the black.

Let the whales dry for at least 30 minutes before proceeding to the next step.

Add some lines of white icing to the belly.

Add some lines of blue icing to the tail.

All done! Let the cookies dry completely before serving or packaging.